In 1993, Congress enacted the Handgun Violence Protection Act, commonly referred to as the “Brady Bill.” The Act requires background checks be conducted on individuals purchasing handguns from federally licensed firearms dealers. The responsibility for conducting these background checks rests with state and local government.
In Utah, local law enforcement was ill prepared to assume this additional burden. However, through the efforts of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, the Utah Sheriff’s Association and the Utah Department of Public Safety, legislation was introduced during the 1994 Session by Senator Lane Beattie and eleven co-sponsors requiring criminal background checks for purchase of firearms and identifying the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) as the clearinghouse for conducting these checks.
A number of advantages became apparent with BCI as a central contact point. One was the ability to implement an “instant check” system, which was possible because of the level of computer technology utilized at BCI. Another was the installation of a single telephone number for Federal Firearm Licensees (FFL) to access BCI for background checks no matter where they were in the state.
Although the Brady Bill fails to address a number of issues surrounding firearms purchases, the impact of the legislation has been positive and useful as a tool for law enforcement. The process of conducting a criminal background check on firearms purchasers might have begun with the Gun Control Act of 1968. As a component of the Act, firearms purchasers fill out ATF Form 4473, which requires an individual to declare the fact that he or she has not been convicted of a felony in the country, along with other questions which when answered “yes” would preclude the purchase of a firearm. Prior to the Brady Bill, these forms were kept on file with the dealer and were reviewed some time after the sale of the firearm. Today, gun dealers and law enforcement can ensure that the purchaser is being truthful in answering the questions before he/she gets a firearm.